Recent days have seen significant life-altering events. Events like COVID-19 have a way of grabbing our attention and altering our focus. One example of this I’ve seen among Christians is to linger longer in the Word and prayer, which is a good and God-honoring response.
On the other hand, if you’re like me, you may have felt the temptation to misuse the time the Lord has given us in more unproductive ways. There are many beneficial ways to use this extra time. I’ve built a standing desk with the help of my wife and a close friend. I’ve had the privilege of spending many days playing with my wife and son in our yard and taking walks through our neighborhood. I’ve read a couple of good books. There are also many ways we could mismanage this time. For example, rather than catch up on needed rest, I’ve probably stayed up too late for too many nights just watching Netflix. I’ve followed the rabbit trail into the black of whole watching YouTube videos mindlessly. To be honest, I’ve probably not helped my wife enough in projects that need to get done around the house, even though I’ve had the time. I imagine each of our situations and the amount of time we have looks different. Therefore, I would urge us all to ask God for wisdom and discernment as to how to use our time in ways that are good for us and bring Him glory.
How we spend our time reveals much about our hearts, for it reveals our desires, our affections, our enjoyment, our hopes, and much more. The story of Mary and Martha, in which Martha is distracted (even with good things), while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching, is a good reminder for us in these days. Jesus tells Martha, “you are anxious and troubled with many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:41-42). In other words, the one necessary thing was to sit at Jesus’s feet and listen to Him. While there are perfectly legitimate, good, productive ways to spend our time in this season, there is no better, more important way to spend our time than gazing upon Jesus Christ in all his excellency and beauty.
In his classic work, Looking Unto Jesus, Isaac Ambrose provides fellow Christians with warnings of the effects of failing to look unto Christ. Yes, we as Christians must admit that we are prone to have wandering eyes, and our affections are often with someone or something other Christ. We would do well to heed these warnings by Ambrose. Due to the old style of the writing, I will paraphrase some of his words, using direct quotes when necessary.
Warning #1: Taking our eyes off Jesus dulls our appetite for Christ and spiritual things.
When we feed our appetites with that which does not truly nourish us, we fail to taste and see that the Lord is good! We cannot taste the goodness of Jesus. Just as physical sickness tends to affect our appetites, so does spiritual sickness.
I have often found in my own life that when I spend little to no time in God’s Word, my delight and joy in God wanes. When I am not satisfied with who God is and all that He has done for me in Christ, my heart tends to attempt to find satisfaction in a thousand other things. The attempt to find satisfaction elsewhere is vain because our hearts were created in such a way that nothing but Christ will ultimately satisfy our longings.
Jesus himself teaches us this when He says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). When I find myself riddled with discontentment, I am essentially saying that Christ, and every spiritual blessing we receive in and through Him, is not sufficient to satisfy me. Even good things, whatever they are, will never be enough to satisfy our souls. If it is not Christ, it will always leave us craving more. Ironically, however, the same is true of Christ, but in the best imaginable way. The more we look to Christ, the more insatiable our spiritual appetite becomes. Suddenly we find ourselves longing for more of Jesus, to know Him deeper, to be more conformed to His image! Oh, imagine how much sweeter partaking in the Lord’s Supper would be to us, not in terms of physical taste, but spiritual taste, if our gaze were more consistently on the beauty of Christ.
Warning #2: Taking our eyes off Christ dulls our senses to Christ’s love for us.
Ambrose notes, “Whilst the soul neglects Christ, it cannot possibly discern the love of Christ,” (35). Not dwelling on the love of Christ for us has countless detrimental effects. Trials are not considered with joy or view as a gracious thing (1 Peter 2:19-20). Rather, they are just plain bitter altogether. We fail to see the meaning in our trials and forget that we have the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ, the One who suffered in our place. We forget that His trial, in which He went willingly and obediently to the cross as a substitute and sacrifice for sin, was the ultimate demonstration of His love for us.
Our hearts become desensitized to the news that we’ve been pardoned and cleansed by the blood of Christ. The gospel becomes “routine.” We become slow, reluctant even to serve Him, and any spiritual disciplines become motivated by dutiful, slavish obedience rather than gratitude and love for Christ because of His love for us. May we continually lift our eyes to the Savior and see His great love for His bride! May God restore to us the joy of our salvation and protect us from being hardened to the glories of Christ in the gospel.
Warning #3: Taking our eyes off Christ robs us of experiencing the power of Christ.
Allow me to quote Ambrose at length. I feel as if I would only cheapen his words if I tried to paraphrase here:
“Would you know wherein lies the power of Christ? I answer, in casting down the strongholds of sin in overthrowing Satan, in humbling men’s heart, in sanctifying their souls, in purifying their consciences, in bringing their thoughts to the obedience of Christ, in making them able to endure afflictions, in causing them to grow and increase in all heavenly graces…But if this duty (looking unto Jesus) be neglected, there is no such thing…it only from Christ that virtue and efficacy is communicated in spiritual ordinances. We see many attend the ordinances, frequent the assemblies, but some few only find the inward power of Christ derived unto their souls.”
In other words, we are utterly hopeless in putting off sin and growing in holiness if we will not fix our eyes upon Christ. Likewise, if we are rigidly disciplined in all of our spiritual practices, yet we do them without an eye to Christ, they profit us nothing.
Brothers and sisters, let’s heed these gracious warnings from Ambrose and turn our eyes upon Jesus. As the classic hymn goes, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”